Coronavirus cases are again edging upward in parts of Idaho, prompting some healthcare officials to urge renewed caution for big gatherings.
“The data in the last 10 days is quite striking," said Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, which includes 22 urgent care and family medicine clinics in southwestern Idaho. “While there are many different ways you look at coronavirus in a pandemic, the goal is to get a positivity rate of less than 5%.”
Southwestern Idaho was hitting that mark in March, with only about 2% of the patients tested at Primary Health being positive for COVID-19. But that rate steadily increased throughout April, and last week 10.8% of people being tested at Primary Health were positive, Peterman said.
The number of people seeking coronavirus tests is also growing, he said.
“What we saw in the past week is the number of patients we tested increased by over 35% to more than 800,” Peterman said. “We have more people that are wanting to be tested that are symptomatic.”
COVID-19 cases have been slowly increasing in nearly every state as the highly contagious BA.2 subvariant of coronavirus spreads across the U.S. Most of those cases have been relatively mild, however, and vaccination continues to provide strong protection against severe illness.
Still, Idaho is faring better than its neighboring states of Oregon and Washington. Oregon ranks 16th in the country for new COVID-19 cases per capita, and Washington state is currently ranking 13th, with one out of every 510 people testing positive in the past week, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
Statewide, about one in every 3,544 people in Idaho tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins, making it 46th in the nation for new cases per capita. Experts say the current testing rates represent an undercount, however, since many people are administering coronavirus tests at home and not reporting the results to healthcare providers.
The increase comes as many families are preparing for Mother’s Day gatherings.
“How do you respond with all of us wanting to return to normal activity, visiting grandparents, congregating, going out to eat? I urge people in every situation to look at what seems appropriate for them,” Peterson said. “Let’s take a grandparent who has been ill or has a chronic disease like diabetes — in that case, if we’re going to congregate, I would encourage them to be in a situation where there is good ventilation like eating outside, or wearing masks.”
Gatherings are made safer if everyone — children and adults — is vaccinated against coronavirus, Peterson said.
“That’s the gold standard because even if someone gets coronavirus, the data is overwhelming that the protection keeps you away from being hospitalized and dying,” he said.